The seeds of sibling rivalry can be sown from day one of bringing a new baby home from the hospital. We’ve shared some suggestions on how to prepare your child for a new sibling during your pregnancy as well as for that first introduction in the hospital. But heading home with your newborn and setting a positive tone between siblings from the start can pose a challenge when you have a toddler or young child whose world is drastically changing. So to conclude our series, here are some tips on making the transition as smooth as possible:
1. Create a safe environment for the older sibling to become comfortable with the baby.
Big-sibs will need some time and instruction to help them become comfortable and competent interacting with the new baby. Try not to overreact when they do something incorrectly because they may get scared, withdraw and form negative associations with their new sibling. If you calmly explain how they can adjust what they are doing to make the baby even more comfortable, they will be much more receptive to your suggestions. Having said that, you should never leave a newborn unsupervised with a young child, no matter how responsible and loving he/she is with the baby.
2. Maintain the older sibling’s typical routine whenever possible.
It is reassuring for youngsters to have their meals, naps, daycare/school/classes remain as close to the regular schedule as possible during this time of transition.
3. Have realistic expectations for the older sibling.
Do not expect your child to become more independent when you have a new baby. In fact, children often regress to more baby-like behavior when a new baby is introduced into the family. Most likely everything will return to normal in a relatively short period of time, so be patient. No matter how prepared and excited a little one is about becoming a big sister or brother, there is bound to be an adjustment period. Do not force your child to connect with the baby; let him/her adjust at his/her own pace.
4. Praise the older sibling for positive behaviors.
It is extremely important to praise positive behavior and to try to ignore negative behavior, if it’s not dangerous. Most likely, negative actions are attempts to get attention; therefore, you will just be encouraging the behavior if you react. “I Am a Great Big Brother” or “I Am a Great Big Sister” reward charts can help everyone to focus on positive behaviors. By focusing on socially appropriate behaviors, you will help your child replace negative actions with desirable ones. Try to avoid potential acts of aggression toward the baby by expressing praise about how kind and gentle your child is being when he/she gives hugs, kisses or other appropriate attention.
5. Listen carefully to how your child is feeling and spend special alone time with the big-sib.
This will help minimize feelings of jealousy and uncertainty. Each parent should set aside one-on-one time with the older sibling so he/she does not feel forgotten. Even a short amount of time can go a very long way toward assuring that the older child does not feel replaced by the new baby. If possible, let the child pick the activity so he/she feels very important.
While everyone in the family adjusts there will inevitably be rough patches. However, by focusing on creating a positive environment your older child will be more apt to embrace and grow into his/her new role as a big sister or brother.